Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: Aberlour 12 years Double Cask Matured Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Fall, Dark and Handsome
Well, it's that time of year again.  Summer is over, leaves are changing color, sunrise is later than usual, and sunset is earlier than I would like it.  The air is much cooler in the morning, crisp, if you will.  Your linen sport coat is traded for winter weight wool and damn, you know what is coming:  winter!

At this time of year, I crave sherried scotch.  I put away those light tasting malts like Cragganmore, Johnnie Walker Green Label, and Glenfiddich 15yrs.  Light honey taste must give way to something more warming.  Heavy, brooding malts that are warming with lashes of sherry, dark fruits and wood smoke that is not to be trifled with.  Balvenie Doublewood 12yrs, The Macallan 12yrs and maybe a real heavy weight will make an appearance like Highland Park 12 or 18yrs.

To that end, I reached for a bottle of Aberlour 12 years, a highland malt that undergoes aging in oak and sherry casks.  The result is predominantly sherried.

Nose (undiluted)
Cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon sticks.

Palate (undiluted)
Initial spiced dark currants, cherry, over-ripe black grapes, transitions mid-palate to a teensy weensy bit raw, unadulterated alcohol.  Brackish water comes to mind.

Finish (undiluted)
Some smoke.  A little green and a tinge of bitterness accompanies the taste of sherry and oak at the end.

General Impressions
What I do like about this malt is how it starts sweet, but nicely transitions to a dry feel by the time of the finish.  That is to be commended at the low price point this malt occupies.  What I don't like about this scotch is the taste of alcohol mid-palate.  The sign of a good scotch is the ability to mask the underlying alcohol content such that the drinker forgets what a strong drink he holds.  A good blender of malts will achieve this.

Let me put it another way.  If this was a no-age-statement single malt, I wouldn't be complaining or frankly expecting as much of it.  But, for a 12 year old single malt, I am expecting a certain level of refinement which means no unpleasant surprises on the palate.  Aberlour 12 is a decent single malt, a go-to comfort scotch I suppose for some people, but not by any means an exceptional malt.

This malt also lacks complexity of flavor.  Buy this and you are getting a straight forward delivery of sherry, oak, a little heat and raw alcohol.  Oh yeah, there is some smoke, some spice, but not great smoke.  No Cohiba or H. Upmann here.  More like Vantage or Virginia Slims.

Some people are fans of this, but I suspect their affection has more to do with the reasonable price, as opposed to the actual taste.  Yes, it is quaffable, but so is Coca-Cola.

Add Water?
Add some water.  Some people think it will improve.  I am not so sure.  Might take a little of the green and bitter elements away leaving in its place the brackish water I mentioned above.  You will have to experiment.

In all honesty, I can't recommend Aberlour 12 years Double Cask Matured.  When I want a sherried scotch and I do not want to spend a lot of money, I will reach for GlenDronach 12 years every time.  Another alternative for a little more money is The Balvenie Doublewood.  No green tinge or young alcohol to contend with on the finish with these two suggestions.


Jason Debly

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  1. Hi Jason,

    Continue to love the reviews. If you ever get the chance in a bar, you may want to give the 16 yr a try. I found it to be a fairly dramatic step up from the 12 yr - a good bit richer with cinnamon/stewed apple/plum notes, better nose, and a stronger sherry character. I'd say that the extra four years make a big difference. There are some days that I adore this one, and others when I don't love it as much, but the 16 is a pretty solid effort.


  2. Greetings, love the site. You have introduced me to many great things, and kept me away from many bad things. Anyhoo I had to write to say I actually like Aberlour 12 year. It may have something to do with me drinking (overall) for less than a year and it being one of the first things I tried, but I do like it. I did detect an apple note on the finish as well. This isn't my first choice when I hit the ABC store, but I do enjoy it.
    Thanks again for making my jump into the whisky world much easier.

  3. Hello Will, yes, I do hear very good reports about Aberlour 16yrs. It is on the 'list' to buy and review at some point in the future. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Hello David,

    Glad to hear you like the site.

    As for Aberlour, I guess my beef is that it is lacking a certain level or bare minimum of refinement that one comes to expect from 12 year old single malts. As I mentioned in the review, if Aberlour was a no-age-statement malt, then I would not be so fussy, and naturally if there was a lower no-age-statement price, I probably would have been less critical of weakness in the taste.

  5. I liked the Aberlour 12 I had a little while back. Or, I did once I got into it, took me around 1/3 of the bottle. Felt like it got a little less sharp, eventually a nice brown sugar and sour cream combination (picked up a habit of dipping strawberries in sour cream, then brown sugar. It's really pretty good) and also some of that lovely Sherry greasiness. However, it was also one of my first single malts, so maybe I'd change my mind revisiting it, but I'm still on the plus side for this one.

    Pricepoints vary widely by location, but where I am I find it a pretty good value. It lists at $39, compared to $35 for Black Bush, $50 for the Sherry-finished Glenmorangie and $52 for either Macallan 12 or Balvenie Doublewood. Depending on one's whisky budget, that's nothing to balk at.

  6. Bitter Fig, you raise a good point about the price point. Where I live, Aberlour 12 is not terribly cheap. It is around $58. But that I think is the exception. Most places it is in the late 30's to early 40's, making the price attractive. So, I could see someone being much more fond of it at $39 than me at the late $50's.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  7. Hey Jason, glad you finally got a review in of the Aberlour line, but I would agree with some of the previous comments that the 12 can vary quite a bit bottle to bottle. I actually prefer both the 10 yr(if you are lucky enough to find a bottle) and the 16 yr old over the 12. Aberlour 16 is an exceptional dram!
    Cheers, Garth

  8. Not related to this exact post, but it's something I know would be close to your honesty-loving heart:

    'The connoisseurs who picked the 12 year seemed a bit chagrined to have chosen the least expensive selection. “Don’t feel bad!” Greene said. “That one is my favorite as well! But if I had told you, you never would have chosen it.”'

  9. Jason, have you had their A'bunadh?
    Funny, I just gave away my mostly-full bottle of Aberlour 12 earlier today...

  10. Florin, I have tried A'bunadh, but it was in a series of tastings. So, I don't have a firm opinion on it. I remember it was powerful. It is yet another for me to review at some point.

  11. I have to say that I agree with much of your assessment concerning Aberlour, which I bought as my first bottle of single malt this weekend.

    At first, I will admit I was turned off by what I thought of as its thinness, its quick rush of alcohol and the lack of complexity. For me, there are really only three transitions whereas with other single malts the drink is chimerical with a lack of straight forward alcohol.

    However, I added some water, let it open up over around ten minutes or so and drank it out of a more appropriate glass. The rough alcohol calmed down. The complexity of the flavors widened and I started to pick out what the other reviews noted as dough or cookies and citrus like grape fruit and later orange. Finally, I picked out something odd which I can best describe as banana.

    I don't think Aberlour 12 will be a repeat buy anytime soon but I will not give it away and I will certainly not finish it quickly.

  12. I remember when first tried Aberlour 12, I first picked up, as you mentioned: " over-ripen grapes." And also kinda bourbon notes. I wasn't really impressed. As time passed and opened up, it became silky smooth and sweet with some lingering spice. But not much else. Hey, but everyone sometimes just wants that. An uncomplicated, simple, pleasing dram.

    1. The big selling point for Aberlour is well the selling point or more precisely, the price point. For what you pay, you get a decent straight forward malt with some sherry. Not bad and fills a needs for a lot of guys who just want something cheap and pleasing. Nothing wrong with that.

  13. People tend to over analyse things. It's a tasty whisky. I like it. I have shitloads of whisk(e)y and this is a good one. I don't look for bananas in my booze or booze in my bananas.

  14. My Aberlour experience began at a BYOB Sushi house in Chicago with my wife and best bud. Sometimes you just luck into the right combo of food and drink. I like this scotch on one ice cube and WOW what an explosion of spicy complexity is brought out by the pickled ginger and wasabi. At my tasting party last week, the Aberlour was well liked, a hit amongst the likes of Cardhu 12, Balvenie DW12, Highland Park12, The Glenlivet 12 and Glenmorangie Nectar D'or. Thank you Jason for the Glenmorangie suggestion as cracking that bottle was the highlight of our evening.

    1. Hi Ken! Glad to read that everyone enjoyed the Nectar D'or. You might want to try GlenDronach 12 or 15 sometime. I think you would enjoy either one and they are generally reasonably priced.

      Thanks for commenting.

    2. We were on the same page...I had the Glendronach 15 with wife birthday dinner on Saturday. (I checked to see if you reviewed it and commented there before I got to this thread)

  15. I love the Aberlour 12. My palate may just not be refined enough to agree with you.

    1. Hey friend, if you love it, enjoy! Thanks for commenting!

  16. Hi Jason,

    I opened a bottle of Aberlour 12 Sherry Cask Matured a week ago. I must say it's a rather disappointing scotch for 12 years old which should be in the rich and round flavor camp. There is quite high alcohol burn compared to its age and abv (40%). The palate is just, I don't know, sweet. There's no other description for it, no complexity whatsoever. I don't recommend this at all. The only thing this resembles to whisky is the dryness it leaves in your mouth. Cheers!

    1. Good to know. I generally avoid this distillery. Aberlour 12 demonstrates that there are blended Scotches in the same price point that taste much better.

      Thanks for commenting!